MarShawn and the Activist that Burnout

On the night of Monday, February 8th Black Lives Matter activist MarShawn McCarrel blew his brains out on the Ohio State House steps. He organized actions around Michael Brown’s killing in 2014 in Ohio, founded a youth mentorship program Pursuing Our Dreams for Ohio’s homeless and was honored for his commitment to activism by the NAACP and Radio One’s “Hometown Champions Award”. But I’m not writing an obituary for this great activist I’m writing to lamenting the trend for activist to burnout and suffer from mental health problems they are not addressing. I’m writing this to lament activist who waste so much time not loving themselves.

"We waste so much time not loving eachother." a quote form MarShawn written hundreds of time in black. In red, where the bullet sits in the gun the quote is altered, "We wast so much time not loving OURSELVES"

“We waste so much time not loving eachother.” a quote form MarShawn written hundreds of time in black.
In red, where the bullet sits in the gun the quote is altered, “We wast so much time not loving OURSELVES”

The suicide of MarShawn touches close to home, too close. Activism was my life for 4 years in college. I worked tirelessly as a student activist and readied myself for the world of “professional” activism when I graduated. I haven’t really gotten there, instead I burned out. I considered killing myself, suffered depression, and took over 3 years almost completely off from activism. It wasn’t until spring of 2015 that I reentered the world of activism and have been hesitant about my commitment to it in fear of burning out again. I want to do more than data entry for a union, but I’m not sure if I’m ready. I look around and am worried for myself as I see non-profits burn through and burn out activist by overworking them and underpaying them. That’s because activist don’t work a job for the pay or the hours, they work it because of there passion to better the world and non-profits exploit that.

Non-profits intentions aren’t necessarily malicious but the results are the same, burnout. Some organizations are especially bad like Clean Water Action and Grass Roots Campaigns, which both find well intentioned young people who want to change the world and with little training have them knocking doors fundraising, a truly exhausting job with long hours and with quotas for them to meet. This minimal direction and high expectations leads many youth to believe they aren’t cut out for activism. Some organizations act like the fact that people are driven to their work because of passion they should be exempt from paying their worker a minimum wage. Non-profit advocacy group, U.S. PIRG recently came out against a law that will have salaried employees paid overtime for the work they do over 40 hour a week, READ: workers will get paid for all the hours they work even if they are salaried. When arguing against it they even to the extent of arguing they should be exempt because they are “mission-driven” work.

The problem is activists by their very nature are often selfless people driven by the work and are willing to overextend themselves for the work (passion). They are committed to their cause (work) and tend to forget about themselves. Organizations only encourage such habits and encourage working long hours, meaning no one is concerned about activists’ mental health.

It truly hurts me to see activist being so selfless and having so much of themselves taken by their work. We are such devoted people but we aren’t devoted to what matters: sustainability.

I have had conversations and arguments with friends about sustainability in the paid-activist world, it has led us to be hesitant to getting involved. You can’t have a life and work for most organizations committed to change. It seems like you have two choices: make real change and being apart of something that matters or try to live a life that’s sustainable and healthy.

Of my friends that work in activism most have or do struggle with depression, and for some this wasn’t something they had before being a paid-activist. One coworker confided in me that she used to cut herself, another talked about her time at a Intensive Out-Patient facility, and another eluded that her isolation and overwork has caused her and countless fellow coworkers to become depressed. I know for a fact that a majority of my coworkers have suffered from depression (the rest I haven’t heard either-way from them)

These are the people who are working to change the world for the better! How? How can you expect people to change the world they are in when they can’t even be happy and healthy themselves? As an activist and an anarchist I believe that you have to live the revolution everyday. What sort of revolution is it when you don’t have time to enjoy yourself? to love yourself? to take care of your own mental health? That’s no revolution I want to be a part of, to paraphrase Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”

Mayes for District 7

Sorry y’all. I’ve been working on La’Tasha Mayes campaign for District 7 the past 16 days and have had little time for much else. To catch you up to speed, I finished my union organizing gig on May 1st, two days later I was the field director for La’Tasha Mayes campaign for city council. And 16 days later was election day. Now it is a few days after election day and I’m finally taking it easy.

The union organizing of home care workers went terrific. I was promoted to a lead fairly quickly which was a cool privilege and fun to do. Being lead entailed briefing and training folks in the morning, checking in with folks and debriefing folks at the end of the night. The job ended up turning from a 9:30am to 8:30pm gig to a 8:30am to 9:30pm gig. We were in blitz mode and can’t say I breathed much. I did even have time to think about my demons and feel uncomfortable with myself and now I’m a much happier person for that.

We ended up winning the union, with 89% of home care workers voting in favor of having a union. The whole thing was a pleasure to be apart of, taught me so much and re-entered me into the world of activism and propelled me into my next job, field director.

And after my glorious 2 days off that included sun bathing in my back yard and a going to a parade I began my next job, field director of La’Tasha Mayes campaign for city council (who if elected would’ve been the first openly black queer woman who is a city council member and the first time 3 out of 9 city council positions were filled with people of color). This job entailed being the main person that deals with volunteers in every respect. I reached out to them, I trained them, I wrote the phone banking and door knocking scripts they wrote, I was their everything.

This job was hard to figure out at first as I reworked phone banking scripts, tried to hire paid door knockers and figured out my candidates positions on different issues and how to best explain them to volunteers. After a week I fell into the job and embraced the role. I talked to a few different organizers, who were volunteering, about my work and was happy to get their approval of my work and happy to talk organizer with them. I’ve organized for 5 years of my life and I didn’t realize I learned a whole other language. The way you communicate with people and run things is much different. It’s a world where small differences are huge where saying “please” makes you sound pitiful and saying “thank you” makes people you say it to feel they are helping you instead of feeling ownership over the movement.

In the end I kicked butt. I and must say I owe it all to the volunteers and door knockers, I contacted only a few voters, they did all the work. This is how I know I did my job right. My job is to inspire, educate and open the floor so other can do the real work. The job is essential for making the campaign work, but without so many passionate volunteers inspired by La’Tasha there wouldn’t be anything.

At the end of the campaign I knew I had done just about my best, I was proud for turning that campaign up! The vote came in election night and it was what I expected, but actually, no, it was much better. She got 35% of the vote, 1,400 votes. I have 537 confirmed “yes” votes for of our contacted folks, our goal was 2,000. She started late, hired me super late and still got a good grab of votes.

At the celebration party she was happy and so where all of the volunteers. Probably happier than the “winner’s” party. She was cheered in as though she was victorious and gave her victory speech. Thanking everyone and what I didn’t realize until this point, was how important I was. She got to me and just kept going on about how essential I was and how she had wished she had hired me earlier. Then the bar started chanting my name. I had rocked that campaign, in a really good way. And everyone wanted to know what was next for me.

One of the organizers I respected and confided with to told me she couldn’t wait to see what campaign I worked on next and wanted to work with me in the future. I realized that this, this is what I am good at, this is my passion and this is my career track. I love campaigns and I cannot wait to see what I’ll do next but it will probably be a policy campaign, world I’m not going away. I have just found my passion. And when La’Tasha Mayes runs again, because she certainly will, I will probably find her by my side organizing volunteers and working my tail off to get her in office. Can’t wait to see where the world is going to take me but it’s going to be awesome.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK day is an extremely important day to me. It’s a day I listen to at least one speech by MLK and at least one by his counterpart, Malcolm X. I’m going to post those videos here and highly encourage you to watch them and remember these astounding men on this day.


This is his most famous speech that highlighted his work and set him apart as a leader in the civil rights movement, his “I Have a Dream” speech. This is one of his more moderate speeches so I always make sure to listen to one of his more impassioned speeches – one of the ones that got him killed.


This is his final speech, “I Have Been to the Mountaintop.” This speech is a speech to the sanitation workers as they struggled to unionize in Memphis, Tennessee. MLK wasn’t killed for his views on voting rights and black’s freedom, but his views on their economic rights, on peace and justice. MLK was a radical man that shouldn’t be remembered with a national holiday. Which is why I listen to his speeches – to remember the man he was not the man they try to paint him as.


A speech by Malcolm X. A extremely powerful figure who was gunned down for reaching across the isle to fight with not against the white man. Malcolm X is remembered for who he was not who he became. After he left the Nation of Islam his views changed and he was no longer censured by the Nation of Islam. If he had lived only a year longer I’m sure his views would continue to evolve to the point that he would have been fighting hand in hand with MLK.


Finally a movie trailer for Selma. It has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And the film is directed by a black woman who normally directs Indy films. I haven’t seen it yet but it looks like one truly amazing film.

Infiltration

I’m sure most of you know all about the police and the FBI infiltrating groups sometimes to the extent of entering their internal leadership in an effort to destroy them. I’ve read about this happening to the Students for a Democratic Society’s Weather Underground and happening to Muslims and other groups more recently. But I was very surprised to hear who it happened to a week ago, United Students Against Sweatshops.

I was involved in United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) for my 4 years in college. I went to many conferences and a bunch of actions around the country from Harrisburg and D.C. to Florida and Colorado. The actions were always simple, with the same main format. Go to retail location, picket, flyer, have a small group enter and hand them a letter and try to talk to someone in charge, then picked more and flyer more.

For some reason or another the Washington D.C. Police Department has found this to be a threat. Against what, I’m not sure. USAS has been pushing around brands making them treat their workers better, but it’s all been within legal bounds. And honestly, not very radical bounds. The worst we’ve done is had sit-ins and those are mainly on college campuses.

But I think more importantly USAS is making change in the industry and this is the law they have broken, providing true and tangible hope and change. They area providing an alternative to the current way we deal with things and making waves. It’s sad that this is how progressive groups are treated by our government but I guess I and other USASers should feel honored that we are worthy of being spied upon?

To read more about this go here:
http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/15419/exclusive_activists_identify_dc_cop_who_infiltrated_bangladesh_protesters/

Finding your purpose in a meaningless world

This is a blog post I wrote about a month ago. Figured now is a better time to share it than never.

For my entire college career student activism was more important to me than, well everything. I considered student activism more important than school, hobbies, relationships. Student activism was my passion and it helped me decide my major, my morals, my personal and political philosophy and my first job out of school. I believed in the world and I felt that my purpose in the world was to change it.

My involvement in the student group United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) was life changing. I entered school as a liberal democrat with an anti-consumerist edge. My work with USAS turned me into an philosophical anarchist. I had a great understanding of the world and how it works and functions from the smaller scale to the larger scale of global supply chains and international workers struggles. This even included theories from how best to organize people locally and internationally to economic theories of development. (Some of these were learned in classes, but these were taken because of my involvement in USAS).

My last semester left me a bit disillusioned as I saw fellow USASers fighting long and hard with hospital workers as they attempted to unionize. They were traveling throughout the state working 70 to 110 hours a week. I didn’t want to move all around so I decided to become a community organizer. I got a job in Philadelphia and worked 6 week for Action United. The world was hard, not rewarding, and not very productive. My stint with them ended and I felt somewhat hopeless. After a few months being unemployed I went back to what I was doing before as a job, working on bikes.

With the help of my pessimistic views and experiences in my personal life as well as my lack of tangible influence to make any change I began becoming disillusioned. I read a couple books and started to open my mind to nihilism, not a positive nihilism but more negative nihilism. I talk more about the details of that here https://casbalog.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/flirting-with-nihilism/ .

After embracing nihilism I was finally able to completely let go of my desires to change this world and to instead be free. While at first I was filled with quite a good bit of despair I began to regain my footing in the world of nothing, this world where there is nothing worth having faith in. I began to do what I enjoyed instead of what I thought the world needed. As Howard Truman says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I did just that. I began to work on bikes, electronics and learned how things worked. Nihilism for me broke me of this past view of asking the world what it needed that I had been told before and allowed me to do what I was actually passionate about.

Now as I continue doing what I want and shunning pressures of myself and others I feel myself falling into exactly what I want to do in life, and it even falls in line with changing the world. By working and fixing things I am actively participating in the DIY culture and anti-consumerism. I also occasionally teach people how to work on their own things empowering them and spreading the DIY anti-consumerist lifestyle I have been passionate about for a long time.

Nihilism gave me the power to shun the pressures to change this world and empowered me to change it in a way that I can sustain.

Stay true to you and don’t forget what you do

Recently I’ve started remembering who I am, connecting with that an expanding upon that. I came to philly and ended up forgetting who I was. I tried to reinvent myself with new friends and a new scene. But I’m just slowly evolving back into who I was.

A dumpster-diving-cheap-quirky-weirdo-activist.

It’s frustrating looking back and seeing how normal I was recently, and how I was hanging out with normal people, doing normal things. How people were again calling me weird, and saying how strange I am. Not because I’m weird, but because they are normal. Those aren’t my people, I’m a weirdo and I’m meant to be with other weirdos. And that’s just how it goes.

Recently I also realized that I am still an activist. I can’t stop myself from being one, I can only hurt my soul by not doing activist things

I’ve considered my break from activism a much needed vacation. My last job at Action United was the final thing that burned me out. I couldn’t connect with activism and just wasn’t interested in it. I recently got a taste of it by going to a friend’s trial.

That taste has left me thirsting for more and is helping me acknowledge that I have a lot of shit to do
-get new job
–have more free time
-dumpster dive
–esp trader joes in media
-get back into activism
-get off my butt
-have more fun.